Increasing student loans seen as a necessary evil

Interest on student borrowing is leaving many former students in Saskatchewan short on cash. The provincial government made $82 million available for student loans in 2019. Photo by Jasper Watrich

Student borrowing is on the rise in Saskatchewan.

Student loans given out by the provincial government surpassed $67.4 million in 2018-19, up from $61.9 million the year before. For the 2019-20 school year, it earmarked even more – $82 million, according to an announcement from Advanced Education Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor last year.

Jason Childs, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Regina, wondered if student loans are simply a scam.

“Are we suckering all these people – young adults – to take on all this debt, to what end?” said Childs. “And that’s the terrifying question … and what happens to these people afterwards?”

According to a StatsCanada survey of the 2015 post-secondary graduating class, many Saskatchewanian graduates owed large amounts by the time they finished studying:

Level of education Per cent of graduates with debt Average debt owed at graduation, $
College 40 16,900
Bachelor’s 54 33,000
Master’s 36 30,000
Doctorate 27 43,000

 

Growing student debt has become such an issue that the Green Party of Canada proposed free tuition as part of its platform in the 2019 federal election. U.S. Democratic Party nominee front-runners Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have popularly suggested providing free education and cancelling some or all of American student debt. This has been compounded by rising tuition rates, which are especially increasing in Saskatchewan.

Childs said that while it’s certainly tough for many to pay off loans after school, it’s a trade-off that allows people to pursue an education.

“It’s a little jingoistic to talk about student debt as this whole negative, because … you’re going into debt to purchase an asset that’s worth roughly a million dollars. That’s the difference in income over working life between high school and a bachelor’s degree,” he said.

“After graduation, [student debt impacts quality of life] by reducing your consumption opportunities, but you know, what’s the net effect, right? Would you have gone without student debt? If the answer’s no, you wouldn’t have gone without student debt, then the net effect is probably still positive.”

Noe Morin, a fourth-year Creative Technologies and Graphic Design student, said student loans have forced him to make some tough choices when it comes to his financial planning.

“Yeah, it affects it on a monthly basis, since that’s what we get,” said Morin. “I have to plan around that usually a month in advance,”

“As far as the student life goes, [it doesn’t really affect quality of life]. But if you compare the student life to someone who’s working, then it definitely affects what you can do, what you can’t do, what you buy.”

Childs said that when it comes to student loans, people might need to consider a different question than how it will affect quality of life.

“How many of these people are glad they made that investment?” said Childs. “How many people, if you asked them, would go back and say, ‘Yeah, that was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done that. It’s not worth it to me,’”

“That’s the true measure of what [student loans do] to quality of life: how many people would sign up to do it again, knowing what they know afterwards?”

A 2017 Ipsos poll answered that question, and found that more than 75 per cent of Canadian graduates under the age of 40 regret taking on student debt. However, third-year journalism student Donovan Maess believes he would go through it all again.

“The thing about my education is that I’m pursuing something that I love to do and given my financial situation, it would be very difficult to pursue something that I have a passion for,” Maess said.

“Student loans kind of allow you to pursue that and more or less pay it off later.”

Updated Feb. 3, 2020.

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